In Missouri, Legislators Fail to Protect Women’s Basic Rights, Undermining Justice for All

In Missouri, anti-choice Republicans opted to place the Missouri state government between doctors and their patients, and a Democratic Governor signed the bill into law.  Reproductive justice activists must share our disappointment with the Governor and state legislators who voted for the abortion restriction bills.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

On July 14, 2011, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon allowed two identical abortion restriction bills to become law. In a bizarre move toward the end of the 2011 legislative session, Missouri legislators passed two versions of the same restriction bill, one originally filed in the Senate and the other in the House. The passage of identical abortion restriction bills was likely fueled by more than one legislator wanting to take credit.

Often erroneously reported as banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation, HB213 & SB65 can more accurately be described as eliminating certain health exceptions that protected women facing serious pregnancy-related complications. The legislation changes the factors physicians must consider before performing a post-viability abortion and creates criminal penalties for physicians not following the new regulations. Governor Nixon, a Democrat who successfully ran as a pro-choice candidate in 2008, did not sign the abortion restriction bills into law nor did he veto the legislation.  The identical abortion restriction bills automatically became law once the July 14, 2011 veto deadline passed.

Reproductive justice advocates had hoped that Governor Nixon would veto the abortion restriction bills. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 veto deadline, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial that called on the Governor to do just that and send a message to state legislators that it is time to get serious and cease treating women’s health like a political football. The Post-Dispatch editorial points out that Missouri’s annual legislative pander to anti-choice special interest groups in lieu of focusing on prevention is both fiscally irresponsible and hypocritical; unintended pregnancies cost tax payers billions, while reducing the number of unintended pregnancies would also reduce the number of abortions. But as the hours ticked by Thursday July 14th it became clear that the Governor was not going to capitalize on this leadership opportunity to send a message through his veto.

Governor Nixon issued the following statement on allowing the two identical abortion restriction bills becoming law:

“This legislation was approved by an overwhelming, bi-partisan majority in both houses,” Gov. Nixon said. “Although people have differing views on this issue, it’s important that we work together to provide accurate health information, promote personal responsibility, protect women’s health, and improve foster care, adoption and child protection services.”

These new abortion restrictions in Missouri are part of an alarming national trend, featuring everything from attempts to ban funding for Planned Parenthood to dangerous and extreme restrictions on access to abortion services. Despite recent polls showing that the nation is tired of debates over abortion rights and would like legislators to focus on preventing unintended pregnancies which would reduce the number of abortions, yet legislators across the country continue to pander to special interest groups through restrictive laws and funding attacks.

It is important to point out that the anti-choice Republican leadership in the Missouri Legislature controls what legislation moves forward and which bills languish. That leadership chose to guide abortion restriction bills to the floor while turning their back on several prevention bills. The anti-choice Republican leadership had five months to pass legislation that would funded prevention, based on the fact that for every $1 of tax payer funding spent to prevent unintended pregnancies tax payers save $4. Instead they opted to place the Missouri state government between doctors and their patients. Reproductive justice activists must share our disappointment with the Governor and state legislators who voted for the abortion restriction bills.

In a year that has seen some of the fiercest attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care in decades, it is too easy to look at Missouri’s new restrictions and breathe a sigh of relief. After all, these restrictions apply to rarely sought abortions later in pregnancy. However, the fact that these restrictions became law means that legislators in Missouri have failed to protect the rights of the few. That should be cause for alarm for everyone who values justice. As attention turns toward the 2012 session and elections, reproductive justice activists in Missouri are already making the case for prevention even as they voice their displeasure that more abortion restrictions have become law.